“Caring, Mischievous, Hectic” | Interview with Grimson

Some 60’s psychedelia. Very pleasing, misty melodic lines. And a very challenging video project. Grimson’s work is grand. Read our discussion with the artist below, his thoughts are as interesting as his music. 

Describe your sound in three words

Caring, Mischievous, Hectic.

More than a standard music video, but not quite a short film..What is the story behind Chimney Sweeper?

I wrote Chimney Sweeper in my final year of high school in NYC, where I was enrolled in a sort of composition/performance class. I had been listening to a lot of 60s pop and psychedelia (Beatles/Zombies/early Bowie), and wanted to write something cheeky and epic, that could close out our end of year show in a big beautiful performance hall. Oddly enough, my friend told our musical director that she had a dream that Chimney Sweeper closed out the show, which is maybe why I got picked to do the finale.
Around that time, my mom showed me a film by Michel Gondry (famous for the White Stripes/Radiohead/Massive Attack music videos) called “Is the man who is tall happy?” It’s a disorienting documentary/interview with Noam Chomsky, but the most captivating part was definitely these scraggly hand-drawn animations all shot on a 16mm camera. I forgot most of the film, but the animations really stuck with me.
I recorded a very rough version of the song once I got to college, and quietly put it out when I turned 19. I started studying film at school (an excuse to make music videos I guess), and used one of the class assignments for a 16mm shooting/editing class to animate the whole song exactly how I pictured it. My teacher told me explicitly not to make a music video, but I did it anyway because I couldn’t think of another chance I’d get to spend that much time (5 months?) on a song animation, with my own personal 16mm Bolex camera. It just felt like a perfect marriage of everything I’d consumed and spit out and could do creatively. He ended up being happy that I ignored him. I ended up taking down the video a few years ago so I could re-work it, and now that I had the time and resources to record it properly, this is kind of version 2.

1100 individual drawings done by hand, then shot frame by frame..You describe this project as painfully ambitious. What drives an artist to put so much energy into their art?

I had a professor who told me that animators are generally pretty weird or crazy people, then looked at me and said, “but you don’t seem that crazy.” He was pretty wrong. I might just be stupid, because I actually love mindless and repetitive tasks. It’s comforting somehow. But there’s definitely an element of crazy in there because I chose to work on it for a class project, where the assignment was just to film and edit some stuff on a 16mm Bolex camera. I think I knew that if I pulled it off, it would be really cool, and if I failed, well, I would fail the class. Most of the work happened in the 48 hours leading up to the deadline – when the rolls of film were sent to be processed, and I pulled an all-nighter to finish the drawings, and then spent 4 hours in a room the size of a closet to photograph each frame. But – the whole time I knew I was working on this project for myself, and for my music, and not for school, which motivated me to be obsessive and put so much time in.

What would be your favorite animation film?

There’s an amazing french animated film called “Triplets of Belleville,” directed by Sylvain Chomet. It’s a little grotesque, but absolutely hilarious and sincere. I particularly love the way it captures little intimate moments that people have when they don’t think they’re being watched. A close second would be “The Point” by the legendary Harry Nilsson and animator Fred Wolf – who made the original Tootsie Pop commercials.

You grew up in NYC, you now work in Berlin. What do you love/hate in these 2 cities? And which city is the world’s capital of music?

I think when you grow up in NYC, you’re kind of forced to love it. It’s such a traumatic place to grow up (if you do it right), that everyone is bonded together in some hazy and long-term way. Like when you meet a New Yorker abroad (Berlin for example), there’s a directness which is unmatched. I love it for how challenging it is, and for the perverse sense of beauty it inspires. Since there aren’t mountains or beautiful fields, you kind of have to find the beauty in people, and in dirty street corners. A lot of that comes at a cost though, and unless you’re super wealthy, there’s always some anxiety lingering just beneath the surface, about money, or space, or safety, ego. In that way, it explains why so many Americans move to Berlin. It has a lot of the same cultural capital as New York, without as much of the competitiveness and high prices. Everything moves a little slower in Berlin, and somehow that feels more manageable for me. Of course, Berlin is changing, and I admit to contributing to the ongoing gentrification. But I think that the tech bros moving here (as much as I love them) are maybe a little more to blame for the rent increases than the aspiring artists. I would say the worst part about Berlin is the bureaucracy, but I think that it’s kind of necessary to have something to have something to complain about in such a privileged space. The produce is pretty tasteless too.
I’m going to default and say New York is the capital, just because I know it best, and I’ve seen the amazing hybrid experimental shit that goes on there. Stuff way beyond my capacity. But I think we all know that the internet is the home of music now – more so than any metropolitan area. Right?

Favorite album of the past decade?

In all sincerity, my favorite album of the past decade is “Something Other” by Phantom Census. This is a hill I will gladly die on – I just think it’s a genius piece of art that transcends everything around it. It’s also by my closest childhood friend.

If you could change anything about the music industry, what would it be?

I think streaming services need to own up to their responsibility as cultural institutions at this point, and pay artists more, and just generally be more present as sources of funding. We need a new model – desperately.

Your biggest fear?

I fear getting stuck. Not growing. Realizing something and then forgetting it. Especially in music, I see a lot of older guys who are just happy to stay teenagers, emotionally and spiritually – and I want to make sure that there’s always something to challenge me, some way forward. Not aggressively, like those guys on youtube who want you to follow some productivity routine, but in the same way one chooses to wear jeans over sweat-pants – because you hope to walk through a door where someone will hold you to a higher standard.

Thank you!

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